How To Perfect Your At-Home Skin Routine, According To A Dermatologist

It seems like every time we log onto the internet, we're bombarded with celebrity beauty endorsements (hello, Kardashians) and articles toting the "one product you absolutely need to buy right now for perfect skin!" This can make figuring out how to pick a new skincare routine really, really overwhelming. Because while these stories may be informative (and, let's be honest, it is absolutely fascinating to see the inside of a Kardashian's beauty cabinet), they often forget one crucial thing: We all have different skin, and therefore very different skincare needs.

So, just because a certain moisturizer gives Kylie Jenner a gorgeous morning glow, it (sadly) may not have the same effects on the rest of us. Because of this, when picking out a new skincare routine, we should be more focused on products' "active ingredients" instead of the products themselves.

Let me explain: According to Dove dermatologist Dr. Alicia Barba, "active ingredients," as opposed to scent/endorsements/cute packaging, are really the make or break factors when it comes to determining whether or not a product will work for our skin. In skincare products, active ingredients are the parts of a given formula responsible for delivering its proposed benefits. So, for example, in an acne-fighting product, the "active" ingredient might be benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, because those are the ingredients that actually do the pimple zapping, as opposed to the "inactive" ingredients, which do things like deliver the product's fragrance or texture.

On any given day, your skin's needs differ, so it's important to stay in tune with how your face is feeling and implement the necessary ingredients. Keeping a range of products on hand certainly helps, but the most important thing is learning how to combine them in the right way. "I’m very much into cocktails, so I layer a lot of actives," says Barba, who is a proponent of experimenting to figure out what works best for you, and also of changing up your routine daily based on what you need. "What your skin might need on a Monday morning is different than what it might need on a Thursday night," she says.

Knowing when to take a break from harsh active ingredients is equally as important as knowing which products to use to begin with, says Barba. "Learn to read your skin to make sure that you know when to stop, because too much of a good thing can cause irritation," she advises. "A lot of young people have to deal with hydroxies and acid and retinol (which are all used to treat acne) and these tend to be irritating. So just be careful, if you find that it’s over-exfoliating, it’s ok to take a break."

Got all that? Now that you have all of the information you need to start rebuilding your beauty routine, here are the five active ingredients you should add to your arsenal.

1. Retinol, For Anti-Aging

Retinol Anti-Wrinkle Facial Serum, $17, Amazon

As my mom started telling me when I was 15, it's never too soon to add an anti-aging product to your routine. Antioxidants in general area also amazing anti-aging agents, and keep your eye out for Hyaluronic Acid, Alpha-Lipoid Acid and Copper Peptide as important active ingredients.

2. Salicylic Acid or Benzoyl Peroxide, For Acne

Origins Super Spot Remover Acne Treatment, $16, Sephora

You know when you put acne medicine on a pimple, and it stings for a second? You can thank Salicylic Acid and/or Benzoyl Peroxide for that. At least you know it's working!

3. Hydroquinone, For Discoloration

Murad Rapid Age Spot and Pigment Lightening Serum, $58, Amazon

These types of products can be used to lighten Hyperpigmentation, dark spots, acne scars or any other skin discoloration. You can find them over the counter, but prescription-strength products tend to be stronger.

4. Vitamin C, For Wrinkles

Paula's Choice Resist C15 Super Booster, $49, Amazon

Considering I found my first real wrinkle the week before my 25th birthday last year, this ingredient has become particularly important for personal reasons. Just like with anti-aging, it's never too soon to start taking precautionary measures if wrinkles happen to be something to freak you out. Look for Asorbic Acid (another word for Vitamin C) and DMAE in your products for their anti-aging properties, too.

5. Lanolin, Mineral Oil, and Petrolatum, For Moisturizing

Belif The True Cream Moisturizing Bomb, $38, Sephora

These ingredients all have the double-whammy properties of occlusives and emollients, which means they help create a barrier on your skin to hold in hydration while also working to smooth the surface of the skin.

Images: StevePB/Pixabay; Courtesy of Brands